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Energy hardship review must serve all customers

Many people facing financial hardship who have trouble paying energy bills may be assisted through improved, targeted assistance from energy retailers, under proposals contained in a new report released today.

The measures are part of a proposed new regulatory framework contained in the Essential Services Commission (ESC) Energy Hardship Inquiry Final Report.

VCOSS chief executive officer Emma King welcomed the measures aimed to ensure that energy retailers offer targeted support to people facing payment difficulties.

“The Essential Services Commission has responded to calls from the industry and consumer advocates with recommendations that build on existing payment plan options, energy management support and other forms of assistance,” Emma King said.

“The framework encourages energy retailers to offer responsive and flexible support to customers in financial difficulty, without customers having to be subjected to what the ESC has referred to as ‘often highly intrusive assessments of customers’ financial circumstances’.”

However, Emma King said a proposed measure that customers facing further difficulty paying their energy bills be required to prepay their energy usage as an alternative to disconnection, still carried serious risks of leaving people either without electricity and gas, or in financial crisis.

“Energy is an essential service that people need to live safely and in good health. We do not want to see people on low incomes and those facing financial hardship left without it, or pushed over the edge into further financial crisis to be able to access it.”

VCOSS welcomed the government’s announcement that further consultation was needed.

“The government, the ESC, energy retailers, consumer advocates and community service organisations will all need to continue to work together around this to closely consider its potential effects on vulnerable people,” Emma King said.

VCOSS also called for the government to continue to work with the ESC, energy retailers, consumer advocates, and the community sector to develop a comprehensive social policy response to extreme poverty and disadvantage, to help people facing energy hardship.